Sewage Contaminates the Tijuana River

    Published: January 5, 2016

    Rainfall and Sewage Contaminate the Tijuana River

    Situated on the border between Mexico and the United States, the Tijuana River watershed is a 1,735-square-mile area comprised of the river itself, swamps, marshes, and the river estuary. It’s also an area historically beset by pollution.

    During heavy rainfall, sediment, sewage, and pollutants flood the river and exit into the Pacific Ocean, promoting beach closures and pollution warnings on both sides of the border. With a powerful El Niño building in the Pacific Ocean, the winter of 2015 is expected to bring heavy rainfall to the region, aggravating what is already a significant threat to water quality to the Tijuana and San Diego regions.

    Blame for the pollution rests with both nations. On the Mexican side, factories in Tijuana take advantage of lax pollution regulations often burying or dumping waste that enters the watershed with heavy rainfall. The watershed is served by a single pump, designed to keep sewage on the Mexican side of the border. The pump has to go offline during heavy rain, however, to protect its own channels.

    On the U.S. side, we’ve contributed to the problem. The North American Free Trade Agreement saw many U.S. manufacturers look for cheaper labor in Mexico, resulting in an explosion in near-border Mexican factories. At the same time, the construction of the border wall significantly altered landscape on the U.S. side of the border, encouraging erosion and increased sedimentation. Border security policies also make cleanup of the region problematic, at best.

    In October of 2015, Mexico and the U.S. signed Minute 320, an addendum to the U.S.-Mexico water treaty of 1944. The addendum encourages cross-border environmental cooperation in the Tijuana watershed with a focus on sedimentation, solid-waste management, and water quality. While the addendum offers no funding to solve the problem, it makes it possible to view the watershed’s problems as an issue both sides must combat together rather than an issue two regions should combat separately.

    In the meantime, pollution continues to threaten water quality on both sides of the border with every rainstorm. Until the situation is resolved (assuming efforts to restore the watershed can overcome the challenges of cross-border politics), it’s safest to assume public water in the region is at risk. If you have any doubts about the quality of your water, we recommend calling a Pelican Water representative at 1-888-575-2029 to ensure your family has access to the safest, tastiest possible water.